Trebor Scholz vs “Web 2.0”
March 5th, 2008

One of the most thoughtful technology critics I know, Trebor Scholz, takes on “Web 2.0” in the latest edition of First Monday.

If the TV news reports on East German television seemed outlandish to tourists, I wonder what the precarity of the labor dynamic of Web 2.0 and its hyperlocal news would look like to a visitor from a country that is not afflicted by capitalism. They would probably think of us as outright lunatics.

In this essay, I explored the brief history and evolution of Web 2.0 definitions leading up to Mr. O’Reilly’s admission that it was “probably a crappy idea.” I deflated its claims to a techno–social big bang. Instead I proposed a steady upward–moving line, not unlike the curve visualizing the process of learning a new language that can illustrate the historical development of social life online. The Web had an initial astronomical growth spurt but is now moving onwith unfaltering instead of explosive pace.

Flummoxed readers may, at this point, ask what else there is to the Web. Has not it always all been exclusively about commerce? Subtract the learned empathy with business needs and start searching for the essential needs of the millions using the Social Web including healthcare, a living wage, and job security. The Social Web is not and cannot be the all–mighty teacher, healer, and redeemer for everything that went astray in society. By defining today’s Social Web solely through the lens of business, however, we loose track of all that, which the Web could be. Re–imagine the Social Web as a place for unmarketed, non–mainstream projects that caters to all needs of those who inhabit it.

The Web 2.0 épistémè will not just go away. Therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of its false claims, its ideological embedment, reinforced by professional elites. With Bill Thompson, a technology critic and essayist, I conclude that “If Web 2.0 is the answer then we are clearly asking the wrong question.”

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